Boy Trouble: a new play about growing up the hard way, queer and without role models

Romar Dungo and Maxwell Hanic in Boy Trouble, Amoris Projects. Photo by Brianne Jang, BB Collective.

By Liz Nicholls,

The teenage characters we meet in Boy Trouble are growing up the hard way: queer and on the Prairies.

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Coming-of-age, the universal struggle for identity, is harder times 100 when you’re figuring out your sexuality for yourself, in a lonely world of secrecy and shame.

“The only thing worse is to not talk about it,” says playwright Mac Brock. His play Boy Trouble, opening Thursday as part of Fringe Theatre’s Spotlight Series, is all about that. “The reality is that (kids) are going through it; they’re thinking about it; it’s happening in their lives. And the more we pretend it isn’t, that their problems don’t exist, the worse the world is for them.”

Kay (Maxwell Hanic) and Anthony (Romar Dungo) are childhood friends, who’ve had, for reasons we discover in the play, a falling out. And we meet them “at a pivotal moment when one of them has learned a secret. And they’re trying to figure out what to do about it….” The show unspools into their past, their memories, the moments that led to their estrangement.

Boy Trouble takes us to 2015, as a wave of new queer TV and movies — Love, Simon, Drag Race and the rest — is about to hit. “A lot of awesome stuff, nice new pathways for the next generation of queer people about to happen,” says Brock, who directs the production that opens Thursday. “Hopeful, joyful. But a lot of the queer stories that made it into the mainstream were sanitized, the magical first kiss, people coming out, to be embraced with wide open arms….”

It was a blinkered vision. All “shiny, happy stories, and we were grateful to have (queer content). But we didn’t see ourselves and our experiences in them,” as Brock says. “It’s what was supposed to happen, and didn’t for us. The expectations add a whole other layer of shame. ” The internet, and its buffet of dating apps with their promise of anonymous access, “allows you to get into some pretty dark corners.”

Boy Trouble has had a dramatic transformation — “a complete rewrite!” — since the original version that premiered at Nextfest in 2019, then went to the Fringe that summer. “The characters outgrew the story,” laughs Brock, who arrived here seven years ago from Regina as an theatre artist with a bent for devised theatre and improv, headed for MacEwan’s arts management program. “Acting? Tried it, hated it!” he declares cheerfully.

The new version of Boy Trouble we’ll see “asks the same questions” as the original, but he and a queer/ trans/ non-binary team of artists “have built an entirely new story.”

Three years ago, we saw a story for one, set in the present: Kay (Hanic), “our troubled gay teen trying to pass as straight and figure things out for himself because he doesn’t see anybody around him who can help him navigate it…. There was so much we loved about that show but we knew it wasn’t done.”

Romar Dungo and Maxwell Hanic in Boy Trouble, Amoris Projects. Photo by Brianne Jang, BB Collective.

Now there are two characters, from very different backgrounds: Kay is upper-middle-class and white; Anthony, from an immigrant Filipino family, has been out for a while. “They have separate stories. And this is about their collision as they try to figure themselves out.”

“We finally get to build the playground that’s always been in my head!” grins Brock, of Even Gilchrist’s design. “We got Astroturf off-cuts dirt cheap; the City gave us a bench….”

Queer “encompasses such a huge wealth of experience,” as the strikingly diverse Boy Trouble team has found in rehearsing the play, Brock reports. “Class, culture, race, language, power, status…. And there are queer hierarchies too. All kinds of fracture lines. There’s a multitude of ways (the characters) can hurt each other that aren’t just about being queer.”

Brock throws out a question to challenge complacency in theatre world. “How often do you meet multiple queer characters in a show? And how often do they end up together…. We’ll find out if there’s a path for them,” says Brock of his play. “We get to have this conversation! It’s not like we got marriage rights, and then everyone’s happy.”

Boy Trouble was “my first production, my first real go at anything in Edmonton,” says Brock, these days the managing producer of  Common Ground Arts, responsible for the Edmonton incarnation of RISER (the national initiative to support indie theatre) and the annual Found Festival. It’s been three years of big changes for him. “Yup, three years of credit card debt!” he laughs. “I didn’t see my first gay couple holding hands in public till I moved to Edmonton. I was barely out before I moved here! And dating Even (Brock’s theatre designer/playwright partner Even Gilchrist) has changed my relationship to queerness, too…. ”

The three intervening years, accelerated lately by the alarming slide to the right here and across the border, have seen the world spin backwards in many ways. Is a new age of secrecy at hand? After all,  it’s ‘don’t say gay’ in Florida. It’s protesting drag performance (“a gateway, the long-term goal is erasing queer stories”). It’s the surgical removal of gay characters from high school drama, and the promotion of “grooming,” the idea that talking about sexuality with kids is akin to promoting their sexual exploitation.

Boy Trouble, says Brock, explores “what’s at risk.”


Boy Trouble

Theatre: Amoris Projects

Written and directed by: Mac Brock

Starring: Maxwell Hanic and Romar Dungo

Where: Studio Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barn, 10330 84 Ave.

Running: May 16 to 27


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